Charlie Brooker's peerless science-fiction future-shock series, Black Mirror, has recently just debuted on US Netflix, bringing its terrifying technological predictions to a much wider audience. Several episodes have now featured kinds of wearable and implanted tech which provides the wearer with a new augmented existance. Although this still might seem like science-fiction, new announcements suggest the reality could be creeping closer.
For example, researchers with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have recently announced an exciting project which seems to be taken directly from a science fiction movie. During a meeting at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in California, the team headed by Eric Tremblay revealed a set of contact lenses which allows the wearer to 'zoom' their vision by up to three times.
The new system, which is currently still in the prototype stage, features a set of contact lenses and smart glasses, with the latter being used to distinguish between the various blinks and winks that are used to control the device. The actual contact lenses themselves - which are what create the zooming effect - feature tiny rings of aluminum mirrors set within lenses which are 1.5mm thick. These rings bounce light around the front of the eye, increasing the perceived size of objects and creating an effect which is tantamount to magnifying the user's vision by 2.8 times.
The zooming effect is turned on and off by changing the paths light takes to the contact lenses. Winking the right eye activates the zoom, while winking the left eye deactivates it. According to Science, this works by changing the polarization of the smart glasses' lenses. Two types of polarized light take two different routes to reach the eye, blocking one of them allows the lenses to change between zoomed and normal mode.
Although I'm sure your mind is boggling at the infinite exciting potential applications for this technology, the original creators designed the contact lenses to help sufferers of various visual impairments. They were particularly concerned with age related macular degeneration (AMD), a progressive disease in which aged individuals (often over 50) gradually lose their central vision due to cell damage of the retina.
However, there could be other uses for the lenses. The original funding for the project came from DARPA - the US military's research and development body - who hoped to use the technology to develop superthin cameras for aerial drones. Over time the project mutated into what we see today, although I'm sure the military will also be eyeing these developments closely. For example, Medical Daily suggests the Pentagon may be interested in using them as a kind of bionic vision for soldiers.
Despite some impressive statements, the telescopic contact lenses still have a long way to go. One of the main problems concerns the restriction of air to the surface of the eye, which means the lenses can only be worn for short periods of time. The drilling of small ventilation channels into the lenses has improved things in this department, but a satisfying solution has yet to be arrived at.
All-in-all, it might be some time before you get your hands on a set of these futuristically advanced contact lenses.